by John MacArthur Friday, February 28, 2020
Every form of unbelief is just another version of idolatry. Even atheists refute themselves by voicing hatred for the God they deny. Creation is proof of a Creator, but those who do not acknowledge the God of the Bible often imagine it was the work of some nebulous, distant, and uncaring superpower. Like the Deists who picture God as a great clockmaker, who wound up His creation and then left it to itself, unbelievers—some of whom are professing Christians—go through life hoping this impersonal cosmic force will ultimately work in their favor.
But the true and living God isn’t distant, uncaring, or impersonal. Our attributes of emotion, intellect, and will did not just happen—God made us in His image. He has revealed Himself in the Bible to be a person. The Bible uses personal titles to describe Him. He is called Father. He is pictured as a shepherd. He is called a brother, a friend, a counselor. Scripture uses personal pronouns to refer to Him.
We know God is a person because He thinks, acts, feels, speaks, and communicates. All the evidence of creation, all the evidence of the Scriptures, indicates that He is a person.
Yet He is also a spirit. He does not exist in a body that can be touched and seen like our bodies. Jesus said, “A spirit does not have flesh and bones” (Luke 24:39). He also pointed out that an understanding of these basic realities is essential to acceptable worship: “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).
The spirituality of God means He cannot be reduced either to a physical image or a theological abstract. He is a personal spirit, and He must be worshiped in the fullness of the infinity of His eternal being. Isaiah 40:18–26 explains the concept:
To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare with Him? As for the idol, a craftsman casts it, a goldsmith plates it with gold, and a silversmith fashions chains of silver. He who is too impoverished for such an offering selects a tree that does not rot; he seeks out for himself a skillful craftsman to prepare an idol that will not totter.
Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been declared to you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, who stretches out the heavens like a curtain and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in. He it is who reduces rulers to nothing, who makes the judges of the earth meaningless. Scarcely have they been planted, scarcely have they been sown, scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth, but He merely blows on them, and they wither, and the storm carries them away like stubble. “To whom then will you liken Me, that I should be his equal?” says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see who has created these stars, the One who leads forth their host by number, He calls them all by name; because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, not one of them is missing.
In other words, if you try to reduce God to something other than a spirit, something that can be seen and touched, what are you going to make to represent Him? Can you draw a picture of Him? Can you carve an image like Him? Can you melt down silver and make it into a statue of Him? What are you going to make it like? To what are you going to compare it? How can you adequately represent God with an idol or an image? You can’t. He is the God of the universe, and He cannot be carved out of a little piece of wood.
We must be careful not to think of God in human terms. Numbers 23:19 says, “God is not a man.” When the Bible talks about the eyes of the Lord, or the arm of the Lord, and so on, it is using what we call anthropomorphisms. That comes from two Greek words, anthropos, meaning “man,” and morphae, meaning “form” or “shape.” An anthropomorphism speaks of God in terms of the human body in order to enable us to understand the concept somewhat. But such expressions are not meant to be taken at face value. God is not a man.
The Bible uses such word pictures to accommodate our limited understanding, and we must take care not to insist on interpreting them too literally. God is a spirit, not literal flesh and blood. The Bible similarly talks about God’s wings and feathers covering His children. But God is not a bird, either.
First Timothy 1:17 speaks of Him as the invisible God. John 1:18 says, “No one has seen God at any time.” No man will ever see God. God represented Himself to the Israelites in the Old Testament through the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire and through the shekinah—His glory—in the Temple. At times God manifested Himself in special ways, such as in a burning bush and through visions. But those appearances did not reveal the real essence of God. He is spirit.
God may not be physical, flesh and blood like we are, but that doesn’t make Him absent. He may be invisible, but that doesn’t make Him distant. The true and living God of Scripture is intimate, active, and constantly working all things together for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28).
(Adapted from Worship)